I experienced for the first time this week an encounter with a ghost product. What is a ghost product? It’s a product with no history, no available information, no existence, with no regulation or expectations placed upon it.
While shopping at the Home Depot in South Plainfield, New Jersey, I came across a compelling stack of 3/4″ plywood situated among the hardwood cabinet grade plywoods, poplar, red oak, etc. The plywood caught my attention because of its tight, consistent grain and thin surface veneer that was disrupted by bluish streaks from its inner layers; the effect was similar to flesh. My first thought was, ‘what type of wood is this?’ But unlike most plywoods, this one was not identified by its surface veneer. The only information available was the name of the product ‘Golden Ply’ and the Home Depot product code.
One might expect that if the product was coded I might be able to find some further information about the origination of the product and its surface veneer. I started in the store, inquiring with several employees in the Lumber department over several visits to the store, at various times of the day. No one could identify the lumber. The product code HD 855-385 was in the computer for stocking purposes, but it contained no data on the product. The store employees could only tell me that the lumber was probably a special one-time order that the store had received.
So I went to Home Depot’s website and searched for HD 855-385. And to no avail, I received this message: ‘Sorry, we could not find any matches for “hd 855-385″ Please check your spelling or search for a different key word.’ In fact, when I Googled ‘Golden Ply’ I only came up with a distributor in India, whose product line does not match the wood I found at Home Depot
So where is the origin of Golden Ply? We might never know; in a world of business driven by the database, there is no record of the product. When I returned to the store today, the stack of 7 sheets had dwindled to 2, both of which were warped and indented at various spots along the surface veneer. I left the store without a sheet of Golden Ply, disappointed that the best sheets had disappeared over the past couple of days. But a few miles down the road, I turned around and returned to Home Depot. I bought the better of the two sheets and brought it to the studio where it will undergo various cuts, abrasions, ointments and bandages to become a semi-functional table of sorts.
Most of the plywood that the big box home center retailers like Home Depot and Lowes sell comes directly from China via Chinese or Indian importers, and are then labeled under some domestic importer-distributer and sold between $30 and $50 a sheet. A sheet of 3/4″ Appleply (maple veneer) by the privately owned domestic manufacturer States Industries can cost $150.00, so why wouldn’t you go with Home Depot? Well, beyond the quality of the end product, Appleply is offered with a Forest Stewardship Council certification, meaning that “wood used in the manufacture of a given product comes from forests that are managed according to strict environmental social and economic standards.”
So we don’t know how the lumber in Home Depot’s Golden Ply has been harvested, that’s not uncommon. But more interestingly, we don’t know from what continent the product originated. It might be a stretch, but when I look at my sheet of Golden Ply, I can’t be sure that it didn’t start as tropical tree on a now clear-cut hillside in central Asia or South America.
But I did purchase the plywood, and I did patronize Home Depot and their ghost product, so if you have any information on Golden Ply, please share!